Day Trippin' from El Nido

The Province of Palawan, Philippines is majestically beautiful. However, when looking for cheap backpacking options in Southeast Asia, Palawan and specifically El Nido should not be on top of your list. Despite this, it is a beautiful small town and not overly touristy (yet).

the views north of El Nido

the views north of El Nido

As two budget-conscious travelers, my ex and I were averaging about $41/day for 7 weeks (see the breakdown here) - we grocery shopped and stayed in the housing provided through our dive shop (774 pesos/night).  High season begins in December which is right around when we arrived and we found that the hostels were typically more expensive than the homestays (pensions). A non-aircon, single room in a homestay ranged from 500-900 pesos per night, whereas 1 dorm bed ranged from 400-700 pesos per night. Also, most of the places to stay are not listed online - just get to town and walk around, you'll find something!

Once in "downtown" El Nido you'll see the bay and many small boats. Warning: this is not where you want to swim. It is murky with boat fuel spillage and a couple sewage drains that seem to drain directly into this area. Sexy. Options for getting to El Nido are:

  • Flying directly into the tiny airport (pricier option)
  • Taking a van or bus from Puerto Princesa (the road is 95% paved as of Jan2016, apparently funded by American oil companies)
  • Boats + ferries from Manila or Coron (watch out for seasickness on the smaller boats)

Some of the best times in Palawan were the day trips that we went on. Many require a motorbike or renting a tricycle, but are definitely worth it!

sunset at Republica

sunset at Republica

  1. Marimegmeg Beach: Known to locals as Las Cabanas Beach. Just south of El Nido and only a 15 minute tricycle ride that should cost 100 pesos for 2 people. This beach is clean and has perfect views of the limestone islands. There are two reasonably priced bars that serve right on the beach. The only annoyance are the local kids selling fake pearls at an insane markup - you'll be asked no less than 10 times to buy them...

  2. Republica Sunset Bar: On the way back from Las Cabanas - this is the best place to watch the sunset just outside of El Nido. The San Miguel pilsner is 60 pesos and the view is perfect. The owner is Spanish, so you'll find their menu is European fusion + the sangria is amazing and the chill music they played was great. Follow them on Spotify (@republicasunsetbar)!

  3. Nacpan Beach: This beach is a 45 minute tricycle or 30 minute motorbike ride north of El Nido.  If you're looking for something more remote than the beaches in El Nido proper then this is a good option (although many tourists do head here). There is a 100 peso/person conservation fee once you arrive. The beach is pristine and is lined with small bars, restaurants and places to stay.

  4. Deep Blue Dive Seafari: A great PADI dive shop in El Nido. The staff is knowledgeable and professional, which is why we dove with them for 1.5 months. They offer day diving, night diving and occasional Seafaris to Coron for wreck diving + other remote sites. 

  5. Boat Tours: Boat tours to island hop are a popular option for everyone visiting El Nido. Almost every corner has a travel agency where these tours can be booked - most including a freshly prepared lunch. Additionally, there is an option to charter the entire boat and pick the specific islands you'd like to visit. When booking, make sure to find out how many people are on your boat - some are overcrowded (up to 16ppl). Although most of the tours leave at 9am, I'd recommend pushing for earlier and get to the best spots first. I went out with a wonderful Dutch family on Christmas day and they had chartered the boat just for us, it was one of the highlights during my time there.

  6. Duli Beach Resort: We never went to this spot, however I heard good things! It's a 60 minute motorbike ride north of El Nido (tricycle drivers will not take you there). It's quite remote with a small resort at the end of the beach that sells beer and food. Expect to pay 50 pesos per person to cut across a local family's land to get here. Another option is to charter a boat from El Nido, but this would definitely be pricier (unless you have a larger group).

  7. Verde Safari Beach: A 90 minute motorbike ride north of El Nido - and the trail is not for beginners (dirt roads, steep hills, etc.). This pristine beach is a reminder of what Palawan was 10-20 years ago, undeveloped, remote, tourist-free, gimmick free - just clean sands and the clear water. Make sure to bring snacks because there is nothing for purchase on the beach. 

  8. San Fernando: A small village just north of Verde Safari Beach. This tiny village is remote Palawan with local flavor. The friendly locals looked surprised seeing foreigners but were friendly wherever we stopped. There is almost no wifi and the cell phone data coverage is quite slow (but will work). Great place to get off the grid and disappear for awhile - especially Casa Felicidad, we stopped here for a beer and to check out their cocks (ahem, roosters...).

P.S. Don't miss Nagtabon Beach, about 45 north from Puerto Princesa. Pics + details here.

verde-safari-beach-palawan-panoramic

Capitalization

Note: Since this post things have drastically changed. But I am leaving it up for old time's sake.

Fuck. The blog has had quite a facelift over the last month. Completely redone, remapped, and now a shared social footprint with my boyfriend. I hate that word. I have a serious aversion to possessive-relationship terms and although I can see the need for them there is just something so icky about hearing something like, "You know my fiance, ____? Anyway, yeah my fiance and I were..." - JUST SAY THE NAME.

Part of my hangup might be that the love of my 20s insisted on stating that we were non-exclusively dating, and would only tell me that he loved me when I would break-up with him. Also, we were living together. Also, we dated on and off from 2006-2011. Oh baggage you silly little buddy.

motorbike-vietnam-blog-couple-hcmc-saigon

Anyway, yeah. My boyfriend (T) now is half of Lulakilla. This was a really hard step for me. Maybe harder than quitting my job and leaving my apartment in Boston because I think I was all set with them anyway. Sharing this blog and telling our story on it (not just mine) is kinda like getting a dog together. Or moving in - funny because we technically have lived together since Day 1 just given the nature of travel. Also funny because T is pushing hard for us to adopt a dog (look at the PUPPEEZZZ).

So now I am turning this blog into something that can tell our bad-ass travel tales and share the magic we get to see on a daily basis, also you can vote on the future of the beard from the homepage. I think I am having a love affair with Vietnam - the coffee, the French infusion, the street food, the harmonious chaos of the motorbike traffic - this place is next level. Also? The epic wifi. I'm back on the grid.

And now that I am a grown-up I am taking mom's feedback as productive and not criticism and introducing Capitalization into my life.

Blogz

Blogging. Believe it or not i have been writing a bit over the last month and a half, but sometimes it feels like a chore. And sometimes i have no wifi. And the days with good wifi and interest in writing aren't that plentiful. And oh... did you see that sunset? And mm Tanduay rum and poker night is more fun.

Also - I am not sure that the current layout of the blog still works as my life evolves. Dickz. yeah i have a ton of ridonkulous lessons in dating still to impart, but i am dating a dick who is not such a dick most of the time. So do i write about us under Dickz? 

Travel... well that is my whole life now. Finances and work and life all revolve around where we are and where next might be, so do I add a section for that?

Promise: I am going to back-date what I did write and post it at some point but the size of that job increases with time. The next goal is to make sure that the blog reflects me and where I am going right now. For the short term here's the soundbite version of the last 2 months:

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  • Circus school was a haven for relaxation and not getting shit done. 24/7 there was mellow thai weed in the pagoda, there were parties every night (a BIG PARTY at least twice a week), and one of the highest ratios of humans getting laid:humans I've ever seen, perhaps 1.4?
  • Kittens are definitely funding ISIS, specifically Drugz
  • Travel from Pai, Thailand to Palawan, Philippines was a true testament to our relationship - we meandered off the most direct path many times (ooh a cock fight... ooh a 3 day cargo ship trip...) and only fought 2, max 3 times
  • The world does not end when I don't regularly workout, my butt gets more juicy and i still fit all the same clothes
  • Divemaster school is not as easy as imagined. Night dives are terrifying. And i am not good at everything in the entire world as once suspected
  • You can in fact blow off a chunk of your finger with a firecracker, and it might just happen on a cliche night like NYE
  • Being in a relationship centered around travel + living together is a huge test but the personal growth it allows can be mind blowing
  • The magical, creative place where fiction + reality collide can be as simple as this... (special love to Xavier - pictured for the photos, memories + writeup on his site) 

Cliff Adventurez

el-nido-taraw-cliff-aerial-view

Recently i had the joy of exploring the Taraw Cliff and surrounding cliff-sides with T. It was a crazy experience because we took *the path less traveled* aka the free way (finances + $ hackz are still a huge personal theme, tracking here). In order to find the way up, enjoy the view and avoid paying for use of the rope bridge, one needs to navigate through the non-tourist neighborhood and ask a few locals (it's on a side street in Barangay Maligaya). Then look at the rock formations on all side and see where there are wear patterns, then proceed. Once up the Taraw Cliff you will then find that all of the other rock formations are higher and with better views. 

After we came down a different way than we went up, we had to ask anywhere from 4-8 locals for the path to the higher cliffs. You'd think they were protecting the Dead Sea Scrolls or some shit, not just a grueling hike to a different vantage point...

Back down to Barangay Suerte and deeper into the 'hood we walk wooden planks around huts, naked children, wild dogs, and finally an 8 year old girl points us to the path. And up we go!

At three different points the well worn path has huts and the higher of the two are most definitely homes. An old man we pass is using a machete to chop down bamboo, and so we ask him which way is up. the path we proceed on leads to hut #2, which is likely his home, 50 minutes up the steep and winding path - this guy is the Palawan Thoraeau for sure.

The path gets murky at this point. We are undecided on which way to go, but give "up" a try. After hut #3 the path is pretty obscure and soon brush gives way to steep rock formations. My 2 favorite interactions were by far:

"Babe, there is a chance we will encounter a wild boar, what do you do if that happens?"
"Scale a tree... duh."

"OK, babe it's steep after this point and will require quite a bit of vertical climbing - if one of us gets hurt, the other will have to leave and get help and it could be hours before a rescue would occur... if you want to turn back now is the time..."
"I'm fine - keep climbing."

Obviously I'm babe. And obviously T has us covered in case shit hits the fan. 

After approximately 1 hour of vertical movement we get to a spot where there is a glorious vantage point, about 70% of the way to the top. We savor the view and an orange from a spot that we are pretty sure no tourists or locals frequent. And fortunately neither of us was impaled by a wild boar (wear bug repellent though, I ended up with somewhere between 30 and 1 million bites).

Pimp My Hut

hut-bungalow-pai-circus-hostel

Circus life continues. Free lodging in exchange for a few shifts of "work" per week. Me coloring on chalk boards while showing guests to their room, T staying up late night and hushing guests/breaking up debaucheries of all sorts... Sex on the trampoline + fist fights to name a few.

Our bungalow (hut?) just got pimped out (like pimp my ride but more of a glamping twist). I was whining about my sore back and trying to get a back-rub out of the deal but somehow this inspired T to renovate our space (and once began he was a man possessed). AKA borrow mattress pallets + plastic rug + fan from empty staff bungalow next door, rotate bed and bug net horizontally for optimal space utilization, check on-site storage for odds and ends to score a coffee table and re-jigger our clothes line inside so towels would be out of head range. Plus I scored the backrub as well.

Benefitz of pimped bungalow:

  1. Cozy environment to invite in others for a smoke of Indonesia's finest
  2. Babe magnet, "So you're T... I hear you have the best bungalow and you pimped it out... Can I see?" - "Probably not a good idea, my girlfriend is in there sleeping right now." "Oh"... I WILL CUT YOU
  3. Menta l health and less of a feeling of transient-homelessness

Stuff

Closing out a life remotely is a world of stress and simultaneously freeing because you have NO CONTROL. 

buddhist-buddha-letting_go-stuff-travel

My mind keeps jumping to the list of things I want to get in order back in the states, yet the quieter voice inside of me says... Let go. This is such a paradox for someone as OCD and organized as myself. I'm pairing down my earthly belongings to a 50L North Face bag and whatever my dad can fit in the back of his F-150. To be fair, I only started with a studio apartment <400sq ft, but this is extreme. 

Today I called dad to arrange for the grand pickup and of course he quelled my fears and anxieties... "If you came home to your apartment burned to the ground you'd be thankful you didn't still have a dog in there and that your landlord was safe." Truth. So anything I get from the apartment is really just a bonus from the fire gods. Things I want:

  • contact lenses
  • Olive's ashes
  • perhaps a few workout / travel clothing options 

But really, the latter even seems excessive. Whatever I get I have to carry with me now. The things I am carrying are starting to mean less to me. It's this weird shift in your mindset where each item is a symbol of its function. What can I use this tanktop for (day/night/adventures/etc)? Is it comfortable? I do have 4 dresses with me, but I have a feeling that if I found a really kickass pair of shorts I'd gladly drop a dress or two. 

What an exercise in letting go. So what do I have in my 50L bag? Here is the current rundown, I'll update this post w addendums as I perfect the mix:

  • 2 pairs workout shorts
  • 1 pair jean shorts 
  • 4 dresses 
  • 2 sports bras, 2 regular bras
  • 5 thongs, 1 pair mesh booty shorts (duh)
  • 3 bikinis (this will increase)
  • 1 sarong
  • 1 pr lululemon capris
  • 1 pr bali pants
  • 4 pairs socks
  • 2 tshirts, 1 workout tank, 6 tank tops
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 pr each: nike free, reebok hiking shoes, tevas, havaianas
  • 1 north face shell
  • 1L ziplock of toiletries
  • 1 small cosmetic pouch
  • 1 small accessory pouch
  • 1/4 cup of olive's ashes in a small tupperware (she's currently frolicking around the world from napa to the gili islands)
  • 1 iPad (exclusively used as a reader for kindle books, debating it's necessity in my life)
  • 1 iPhone (I'll be switching to Samsung once I secure some income)
  • 1 small acer laptop purchased this week 
  • 1 passport carrier, also used to store credit cards etc.

Now that it's all listed it feels really excessive... Time to wean down!